The readiness is all, he says, but I’m not ready, not for this: the bluebird back before her time—that is, if she ever left—the winter soft as summer mist when pink buds swell too soon, surprising. Which should, it seems, be cause for joy, but, yet again, it is not so, for on this fragile island earth, ice fields melt, dark waters rise, and sweeping north in wild flight, swans bear within them seeds of death, not yet in bloom, but it will come when warbler, wood duck, raven, wren drop from the silent sky like stones; and in the green dawn no birds sing.
This morning’s miracle: dawn turned up its dimmer, set the net of frost on the lawn to shining. The sky, lightly iced with clouds, stretched from horizon to horizon, not an inch to spare, and later, the sun splashed its bucket of light on the ground. But it’s never enough. The hungry heart wants more: another ten years with the man you love, even though you’ve had thirty; one more night rinsed in moonlight, bodies twisted in sheets, one more afternoon under the plane trees by the fountain, with a jug of red wine and bits of bread scattered around. More, even though the dried grasses are glowing in the dying light, and the hills are turning all the syllables of lavender, as evening draws the curtains, turns on the lamps. One more book, one more story, as if all the words weren’t already written, as if all the plots haven’t been used, as if we didn’t know the ending already, as if this time, we thought it could turn out differently.
Life smooths us, perfects as does the river the stone, and there is no place our Beloved is not flowing, though the current’s force you may not like. —St. Teresa of Ávila
This rounding roughs us even as it smooths, the force of God’s water strong, tumbles the small stones even as it soothes and carries them lightly along, The rain falls full and fills the streams. The river drinks their love. The trees bend heavy with dreams. There’s nothing that does not move.
Borne along by fire and flood, by wind that tongues and grooves, our bodies brimmed with blood that feeds us as it proves perfection is no steady state. It’s on the way and always late.
They warned us, like innocents, not to name our goat, to exercise good sense, refuse to see him as a pet or even, oops, as him. Just do whatever all it takes to tame the thing toward that appointed time when goat and fate should meet, when the dull drawn blade would withdraw blood from funny, fuzzy throat.
For days or weeks, we avoided eyes, made it a point to see the animal as meat. Through open window, so relieved, I heard you say to our neighbor, “No, you do it.”
And kindly, our neighbor did—spared you, and me too. But I will never forgive myself the rare deliciousness of the stew.
Even after years living with the blind, guide dogs continue gazing into the dead fish of their owner’s eyes. The dogs are not stupid. They simply see what eyes can’t see behind the bloodless husk of facts. And soon enough, their guileless trust awakens something in the blind: not sight, exactly, but the cognizance that they are seen—which is another kind of seeing—call it faith, blind faith.
Obvious of course, now and in the beginning: God is not a perfectionist. Good at detail for sure, and drama, but lacking the compulsion to get every piece of punctuation in its proper place, ever. And forever forgetting the finishing touches: a proper frame, that final proofreading.
Tempting to be critical of such sloppiness, all those excesses and omissions. For instance, surely there is too much sadness to go around, more than what’s necessary for lessons and poetry.
But I don’t mean there is no serious business here. Only that there is something else on the canvas, an art in line and color, a splash of mystery, a priority of passion perhaps, well beyond the right answer and its rush of applause, something still seeping into our soil.
Here’s a story. My first job, at fifteen, was in a bakery, Cleaning the vast foul pots and kettles and baking pans At night, for hours, alone, with horrifying chemicals, & Finally locking the shop and trudging home in the dark. I hated it from the first hour but I couldn’t quit instantly Because I was afraid to be teased and be mortified. This Went on a week. The back door to the bakery was in an Alley that looked like a good place to get shot. One day As I shuffled sadly down the alley I saw a slumped man Sitting by the back door, smoking. I didn’t know him & Figured I was about to get rolled. I was sort of relieved, To be honest, because then I’d have a decent excuse for Quitting. But when I got there the man stood up, and he Said boy, I run the shop next door, and I see you in here Working, and I bet you have not eaten, and that’s awful Hard work, I know how that guy leaves his kitchenware, So here’s a sandwich. Now, it’s not from me exactly but From my wife who has a real sharp eye. So there you go. I quit a few days later, and at my dad’s instruction I quit Face to face with the baker, who was furious, and it was No fun at all, but then I went and said thanks to the lady. Even now sometimes I see that man smoking in the alley, And standing up, and being kind to a kid he didn’t know. Even now I’ll be walking along and suddenly there he is, Waiting to be kind. We think we are alone but we aren’t.
A curving trail—the callused field obscures it until we shovel out the clotted brick, lug a ton or two of sand to fit trenches, level rumpled earth, correct courses. A mallet stuns a thumb, new blisters bud as self-impressed we shout, “This row is done!” but then a kid names names, prefers George Toad, Kate Cricket, slaps William Mosquito, pats Barkly, unleashed, our best company. We rest and share cold drinks. David brings homemade muffins, burned, blueberry plenty. Sun flickers around us, summer’s wings. Yet sand, we need more sand! Deer watch from trees while we adjust the pathways on our knees.